City responds three months after deadline
■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Editor
In the last issue, we addressed how the city of Hemet’s expenditures continue to outpace revenue, the city’s apparent “lack of community engagement,” and the excessive “turnover of key city staff.”
On July 25, the State Auditor updated its website as to Hemet’s at-risk status. Please see related article in this edition page A1. The city of Hemet submitted its response to the auditor’s report on May 25, three months after the February deadline. In the July 25 update, the auditor explained that corrective measures have not been sufficient to remove the city from its designation of “high-risk.”
Later that same day at the Hemet City Council meeting, constituents were frustrated with the city’s complacent attitude regarding the audit. The only two Council members who seemed concerned were Mayor Pro Tem Michael Perciful and Councilwoman Karlee Meyer.
Perciful said that the city needs to do what is necessary to get off the high-risk list. Meyer seemed equally frustrated.
Addressed in this article are the following Auditor’s concerns:
Ineffective and inefficient organizational management
Inefficient structure of city government, and
Inconsistencies in outsourcing maintenance activities
We will publish the auditor’s concerns, the city’s response, and our view of what we believe is reasonable.
Ineffective and inefficient organizational management negatively affects Hemet’s provision of public services
Risk Area: “Underfunded fire department – faces critical needs for sufficient staffing and repairs to its infrastructure. Handles high demand for services with minimal staffing, resulting in potentially unsafe conditions. Incurs costs for emergency medical services but does not recover these costs through charges.”
City’s Response: “The Hemet Fire Department has been authorized to fill all open budgeted positions; this includes entry level Firefighter/Paramedics, Engineers and Fire Captains. Additional staffing needs have been addressed through a long-term 5-year plan and will be predicated on appropriate policy and budgetary support. Hemet Fire Station facilities are included in the City’s Capital Improvement Plan – this includes ADA related compliance needs as well as repair and future replacement of Fire Station facilities. Fire facility needs are reviewed and addressed each fiscal year and programmed as funds are made available. The Hemet Fire Department commissioned a detailed review of its operations, known as a Service Delivery Options Analysis.
“The report provided 27 recommendations, including the need to address critical staffing needs. The report, presented to the City Council in June 2015, identified the Hemet Fire Department’s staffing level at .55 firefighters per 1000 population as compared to the Regional median of .92 firefighters per 1000 population served. The City will continue to evaluate Fire Department staffing needs and will make the necessary structural changes when changes to revenue or expenditures are identified. The policy of the Hemet Fire Department is to recover, where appropriate and pursuant to Local, State, and Federal statutes, any and all costs associated with providing traffic accident mitigation, fire suppression, rescue services, hazardous materials response and mitigation, investigations and related services. The City will take the necessary steps to review its current practice of not billing for Emergency Medical Services; future actions/review will require appropriate policy direction from the City Council.”
Auditor’s Recommendation: “Hemet should generate additional revenue, such as charging fees for emergency medical services provided by the fire department. If it implements a fee for emergency medical services, Hemet should conduct a comprehensive fee analysis to determine the fully burdened hourly rates for providing emergency medical service, specific to the duration of emergency medical calls, and ensure that first responder fees do not exceed the cost to provide the service. Hemet does not adequately fund its fire department to address the concerns identified in its 2013 and 2015 consultant reviews, it should pursue alternatives for providing services, such as shared fire services with other local governments.”
City’s Corrective Action Plan: “(1) Conduct work study with City Council and current vendor, Fire Cost Recovery, to identify impact of and potential revenue generated through the implementation of an EMS first Responder Fee. (2) Commence comprehensive fee analysis to determine the fully burdened hourly rates for providing emergency medical service, specific to the duration of emergency medical calls, and ensure that first responder fees do not exceed the cost to provide the service. (3) Develop and present comprehensive staffing and implementation plan to address concerns identified in 2013 and 2015 consultant reviews of fire department, with immediate priority given to filling battalion chief rank. Timing: (1) Completed 9/27/16 (2) Completed 9/27/16 (3) Complete, Battalion Chief position re-established, recruitment complete.”
The Valley Chronicle (TVC): This should be addressed with the passage of Measure U. HFD has added an additional unit during the peak call hours. Three battalion chiefs have been hired. Unfortunately, we are still confused how the city’s response will adequately address the need. Despite improvements, the infrastructure still appears to need serious attention – just ask the firefighters at Station 3. Our first responders can only respond to the people in an emergency if the infrastructure is up to par and sound. Meanwhile, the department is looking at implementing a system to better differentiate emergency from non-emergency calls to help conserve resources.
Inefficient structure of city government
Risk Area: Inefficient structure of city government. Has experienced disproportional reporting relationships within city operations. Has some functions that are related but do not share reporting relationships or locations.
City’s Response: “Organizational changes between 2008 and 2016 have resulted in dramatic changes in staffing levels. The organization has reduced the number of employees from 420 employees to 270 employees over that time frame. Much of the organization’s mid and upper-management positions were eliminated. In addition, some departments are staffed without adequate required technical expertise.”
Auditor’s Recommendation: “To streamline oversight, better align similar functions, and provide opportunities to leverage staff, Hemet should reorganize the structure of its city government. Specifically, it should conduct a comprehensive organizational analysis, including work assignments, workloads, reporting relationships, and coordination points, and pursue options to improve efficiency and effectiveness, such as creating a combined community development and services department, shifting engineering to become a division under public works, and shifting its code enforcement division to public safety.”
City’s Corrective Action Plan: “(1) Authorize a comprehensive organizational analysis, including work assignments, workloads, reporting relationships, and coordination points, and pursue options to improve efficiency and effectiveness. (2) Initiate comprehensive organizational analysis. (3) Conduct work study on staff implementation of the comprehensive organizational analysis (Community Development, Public Works, Code Enforcement).”
Timing: “(1) Fire Department Service Delivery Options report complete, Pending approval of FY 17-18 Budget (2) Pending approval of FY 17-18 Budget (3) Pending approval of FY 17-18 Budget.”
TVC: There have been a few Council meetings addressing the poor communication within the city. One conversation was very recent and very uncomfortable for everyone in attendance. I am curious to know how reorganizing and addressing this risk area depended on the adoption of the FY 17/18 budget. I understand how decreasing staff can be problematic. However, wouldn’t management track the workflow and efficiency of a department anyway? Isn’t it a manager’s job to identify the issues, then fix them? In all fairness, the County of Riverside Board of Supervisors approved spending about $21 million on consulting group KPMG to find efficiencies and savings. We can’t seem to figure this out on any level.
Inconsistencies in outsourcing maintenance activities
Risk Area: Inconsistencies in outsourcing maintenance activities. “City outsources some landscape maintenance but maintains its parks, resulting in additional costs.”
City’s Response: “The City of Hemet contracts out for over 40 percent of municipal functions. These include animal control, crime lab forensics, fire plan check, background investigations, towing, custodial services, landscape maintenance, and solid waste and recycling services. The City of Hemet will continue its practice of exploring opportunities for the most cost-effective provision of landscape maintenance that offer service efficiencies, provide streamlines services, and provide enhanced customer service, at levels of services subject to policy approval by the City Council. Historically this has resulted in a combination of outsourced maintenance services, public and private partnerships and services retained in-house.”
Auditors Recommendation: “Hemet should initiate a request for proposals to consider the costs and benefits of outsourcing citywide maintenance of all streetscapes.”
City’s Corrective Action Plan: “(1) Review current park maintenance service levels with City Council and confirm options for acceptable service levels to be used for the development of a scope of services to be used for request for proposals.”
Timing: “(1) Completed, City Council provided policy direction to retain park and streetscape maintenance duties 09/27/16.”
TVC: During a budget work study, the City Council found out that the city of Hemet pays an employee approximately $60,000 per year (fully burdened) to pick up trash in our city parks. How many people want that job? I do appreciate our city employees and the work they do, but I think that says it all. The city must get a handle on this.